October 14, 2016
A crumbling home at at 753 Walnut St. in Camden, where Martin Luther King Jr. boarded with a friend while they were seminary students, is a step closer to being saved.
The Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, a non-profit redevelopment organization, has taken control from property owner Jeanette Lilly Hunt.
The property has been empty for decades. The adjoining home has unpaid tax liens.
From the fall of 1948 to May 1951, King attended the now-closed Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, near Chester, Delaware County. King lived in Camden for two of those years with Walter McCall, his best friend.
McCall was a fellow seminarian also from Morehouse College in Atlanta. The two lived in a borrowed room in the Bergen Square section of Camden. The friends lived in a back room of a twin home owned since 1945 by McCall's cousin, Benjamin Hunt, according to researchers.
Jeannette Lilly Hunt, who is in her early 80s now, has recalled seeing King exchange greetings and pleasantries while at the house when she visited there during her early 20s.
Researchers believe King's experiences in Camden set him on a path to his civil rights work.
A white bar owner in Maple Shade pulled a gun on King, McCall and their dates when the four visited on a trip to the Jersey Shore.
As a result, King filed a complaint with police – apparently his first documented attempt to legally challenge racism.
Congressman Donald Norcross, who brought civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a contemporary of King’s, to the home about a month ago, announced the property transfer in a Friday statement.
“Today, I’m proud that I was able to bring our community together to help restore and save this important piece of American history. We owe it to future generations to ensure this national treasure is safeguarded,” said Norcross, a Democrat who represents Camden.
“It’s obvious this house is critical to our past and needs to be preserved for the future. We’re proud to be partners making this a reality,” said Anthony Perno, CEO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.
The Camden City Historical Society is expected to designate the property as historically significant at an upcoming meeting.
Camden Mayor Dana Redd said she was delighted by the move.
(Full disclosure: U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross is the uncle of Phillyvoice.com. director Lexie Norcross.)